The Chinese have a saying regarding weapons, “The shorter it is – the more dangerous. The more ordinary looking, the deadlier it is.”
This saying is perfectly appropriate for the steel fan. The Chinese often turn ordinary household implements, like a pair of chopsticks, a wooden stool, a rice bowl, and even a pair of sandals into a deadly weapon. It is considered a short weapon, about 14 inches long, very innocent looking, and not that much different to an everyday paper fan, except the ribs are made of stainless steel instead of bamboo strips, and the paper is replaced by toughened silk. When carrying one unopened, no on can tell it is a weapon at all. Even when opened, the fan itself looks quite ordinary and harmless. However, in the hands of an expert, the innocent looking fan can be a lethal weapon.
The steel fan is quite a handy weapon to have, it is easy to carry and is inconspicuous. When the weather is warm, you can use the fan to cool yourself and chase the flies away. When you are in danger, you can use the steel fan as an effective weapon for self-defense because the ribs are made of steel. You can use it to block and deflect much larger weapons by wrapping the fan against your forearm and turning it into an “iron bridge hand.” You can use it for “chin na” (grappling) and you can use it for acupressure point striking.
When folded, the fan can be used like a short dagger to cut, to jab, and to slash. When unfolded, the fan can be used like a spring-loaded knife with sharpened ribs to stab, slice and spear your opponent. Combine it with your body movement and footwork and you can turn the short fan into a long weapon by launching yourself at your opponent while throwing open the fan. Thus, turning a soft implement into a hard weapon with a flick of your wrist.
You can also flick open the fan as a fake, as the action makes a loud noise that will distract your opponent’s attention while you kick or throw a punch elsewhere. The open fan can work like a saw to slice with the tips of the ribs opened up into a semi-circle. While the fan is open, you use the broad surface like a backhand slap against the face of your opponent. It is indeed a very versatile weapon.
The fan is considered an “internal” weapon, because it uses the “soft” to overcome the “hard” and the short to overcome the long. When using the fan; “the mind must be coupled with the heart, the heart with the strength, the strength with the chi, the chi with the fan, the fan with the eyes, and skill with dexterity.”